Challenges to affirmative action policies receive opposite results

Savana Dunning

Two decisions have been made this month regarding two separate Texas universities’ affirmative action policies. But while one university can still use race as a factor in their admissions process, the other cannot.

A nearly two-year-old case challenging UT’s admissions policy was dismissed last Tuesday by a Travis County state district judge. He determined the defendant had lack of standing after finding race was not used as a factor in the applicant’s admission denial. The case was filed by nonprofit organization Students for Fair Admissions, which appealed to Texas’ Third Court of Appeals. The person was denied admission to Butler School of Music because of a low score on her French Horn audition.

“We agree with the judge’s decision to dismiss (Students for Fair Admissions’) lawsuit,” UT spokesman J.B. Bird said in a statement. “While the case was decided based on (Students for Fair Admissions’) lack of standing, we remain confident in the lawfulness and constitutionality of UT Austin’s holistic admissions policy, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2016.” 

One day after news of the dismissal broke, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s School of Medicine announced it will remove race as a factor in its admissions process effective May 1, an agreement with the
United States Department of Education after a 14-year-long investigation into its admissions policy.

“The school focuses on providing a core foundational value of including the diverse cultures, lifestyles, personal beliefs and ideas of all those we serve,” Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Suzanna Cisneros said in a statement. “The … School of Medicine is committed to holistic alternatives to enhancing diversity while ensuring it is appropriately and lawfully considering an applicant’s race and/or national origin in its admissions process.”

While both situations challenge the use of affirmative action at Texas schools, the reason the two institutions received such different outcomes is a result of the different ways they were handled, according to UT professor Norma Cantu, an expert on higher education policy.


“They’re both different,” Cantu said. “Both valid, but different.”

Unlike UT’s case, Cantu said the School of Medicine decision is not the result of a lawsuit. The agreement is a settlement between the Department of Education and Texas Tech University Health Sciences’ Center after someone who did not apply to the school filed a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights back in 2005 saying the admissions process’ use of race was a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A complaint allows a person to bring concerns about a government institution’s conduct without personally taking legal action, Cantu said. Complaints can either be investigated by the government, dismissed, settled or referred to the Department of Justice. In the center’s resolution agreement, the Department of Education said the settlement does not mean the school violated the law.

While Students for Fair Admissions is appealing, Cantu said neither decision currently changes how affirmative action cases will be reviewed in the future.